The Philadelphia Eagles' hiring of new coach Chip Kelly is one of the biggest NFL storylines this offseason. Fans and pundits alike are eager to see if his wide-open, high-octane offense can succeed at the next level after piling up points in college.
Kelly clearly has an excellent football mind and appears to have surrounded himself with a strong staff, but like any coach, he needs players who fit his scheme. The same can be said of Philadelphia's defense, which will transition to a 3-4 look under new defensive coordinator Billy Davis. In fact, the Eagles have even greater needs on that side of the ball.
Things could change in free agency, but here's a look at some the team's biggest needs and how it might address them via the draft.
The Eagles restructured Michael Vick's contract and signed career backup Dennis Dixon, who played at Oregon when Kelly was the offensive coordinator in 2007. With Vick and Dixon in the fold and Kelly clearly valuing mobility at quarterback, trade rumors are swirling around 2012 third-round pick Nick Foles, who is a bigger, less-mobile pocket passer.
Philadelphia has done a sound job finding stopgap solutions and putting itself in a position to make a beneficial trade, but that doesn't mean there isn't a need at the position, even if Foles stays.
Vick is clearly on the downside of his career, Dixon is a 210-pound quarterback with a history of knee injuries, and Foles clearly isn't a great fit. Ideally, Kelly could bring in a young quarterback with the foot speed to run read-option plays and the quick release to get the ball to playmakers in space.
Problem is, the 2013 class is weak, with no one in the top 10 built to run Kelly's system. West Virginia's Geno Smith, NC State's Mike Glennon and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson are pocket passers. There isn't an intriguing sleeper further down the board either, so the Eagles are best served waiting to fill this need and keeping an eye on 2014 prospect Tajh Boyd (Clemson). Yes, it's early to talk about next year's draft class, but Boyd's athleticism and quick release are too intriguing not to mention.
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is an unrestricted free agent, and there's a possibility high-priced 2012 acquisition Nnamdi Asomugha won't be in Philadelphia when the 2013 season opens either. At safety, 2010 second-round pick Nate Allen hasn't progressed as hoped, and the Eagles cut 2011 second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett last year.
Considering the situation at quarterback, the Eagles could look to the defensive backfield with the No. 4 overall pick this year, where Texas S Kenny Vaccaro would make the most sense. Vaccaro projects as an immediate starter because of his range in deep coverage, fluidity in man coverage and ability to play the run.
Alabama CB Dee Milliner is another option, though he's more of a reach with the fourth pick. Of course, the need here is so great the Eagles should draft multiple defensive backs. With that in mind, keep an eye on Day 3 sleepers like Connecticut CB Dwayne Gratz and Nevada S Duke Williams.
It will be interesting to see how early the Eagles address this need in the 2013 draft. On the one hand, offensive tackles don't have as much value in Kelly's spread scheme as in other systems. Philadelphia's quarterbacks can option edge defenders, the quick-hitting passing attack makes it tougher to apply pressure from the outside, and the tempo wears pass-rushers out.
On the other hand, tackle is clearly a pressing need, especially because Vick and Dixon have had problems staying healthy. The hope is that OT Jason Peters can return from an Achilles injury and lock down the left side, but the Eagles released Demetress Bell, King Dunlap is an unrestricted free agent, and Todd Herremans fits better at guard.
My colleague Todd McShay has the Eagles taking Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel with the fourth overall pick in his latest mock draft, and they would do well to land the best offensive tackle on our board. Joeckel's quick feet, frame and football smarts make him a sound fit. It's also worth pointing out that he is used to blocking for a mobile quarterback (Johnny Manziel) who extends plays with his feet.
Florida State's Menelik Watson is an option at the top of the second round, and San Jose State's David Quessenberry is an interesting midround option, considering Kelly can sacrifice size for athletic ability up front.
The team released one of its best pass-rushers in DE Jason Babin late in the 2012 season, and 30-year-old DE/OLB Trent Cole is a coming off a disappointing season. 2012 second-round pick Vinny Curry is a better fit at end than outside linebacker in three-man front. And with so many questions in the secondary and the Eagles finishing 25th in the league in sacks last season, getting pass rush help in the form of a 3-4 outside linebacker makes sense.
Illinois' Michael Buchanan and LSU's Lavar Edwards are relentless pass-rushers with good size who also have ample experience dropping into coverage. Both project as early Day 3 picks. Keep an eye on Connecticut's Trevardo Williams in the later rounds as well. At 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, Williams doesn't have an ideal position fit at the NFL level and may never be an every-down player, but he has the quick first step, explosive upper-body strength and the motor to get after the passer.
Antonio Dixon is one of the more interesting names currently on the roster. Dixon tore his triceps in 2011 and never caught on with Indianapolis after the Eagles released him before the start of the 2012 season. Philly thought enough of him to re-sign him in December, and he's a good fit for a 3-4 scheme. At 6-3 and 322 pounds, he can clog up the middle.
The need might not be as pressing as it appears on paper, but Philadelphia should still look for help here considering Dixon hasn't played much the past two seasons.
Alabama's Jesse Williams may not make it out of the first round, but if he does, Williams could be too good a value to pass up early in the second. He's tough to move off the ball as a run defender and can push the pocket as a pass-rusher. Missouri Southern's Brandon Williams is another nose tackle prospect generating some buzz, and there's a chance he slides to Day 3.